The evidence session, held on Wednesday [25/03/20], saw the Petitions Committee put a range of questions from UK residents and British citizens to a panel of key Government officials and Ministers.
Members of the public submitted more than 45,000 questions on everything from school closures to ‘lockdown’ decisions. The unprecedented response came after more than 2 million people signed parliamentary petitions relating to COVID-19.
The evidence session, which was led by Petitions Committee Chair Catherine McKinnell MP, saw MPs challenge the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Dr Jenny Harries OBE and the Minister of State for School Standards Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP on the Government response to the outbreak. Justin Tomlinson MP – Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work also answered a number of questions on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, on issues including waiting times for Universal Credit, and the level of statutory sick pay.
Throughout the wide-ranging session, the panel answered questions on matters from PPE supplies and NHS capacity, to return dates for schools and support for vulnerable children – including those currently relying on free school meals. The panel were also questioned on when safe and effective testing for COVID-19 would be made available.
The Petitions Committee were joined in the evidence session by Stephen Timms MP, Chair, and Selaine Saxby, a member, of the Work and Pensions Select Committee. The joint-committee approach allowed for a greater level of scrutiny across the range of problems presented by the Coronavirus outbreak, as the Parliamentary Committees held the Government to account on the response to the virus.
Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell MP, said:
“With more than 2 million people signing parliamentary petitions about Coronavirus, it was vital to the Petitions Committee that we took action and put their questions to Ministers and officials, so we could together scrutinise the Government’s plans to tackle this unprecedented pandemic.
“I am pleased we were able to arrange a virtual session, the first of what is likely to become normal for Parliamentary committees. We were grateful to the Government Ministers and Advisors for their attendance to answer our questions, particularly on the most pressing issues like support for the self-employed, protection for our frontline staff, education provision, and testing capacity.
“As we continue to tackle this outbreak and its challenges together, the Petitions Committee will continue to hold this Government to account on behalf of the public to ensure it is effective in responding to the Coronavirus pandemic.”
The Petitions Committee will consider the responses from the Government and will continue to scrutinise developments over the coming weeks. The full video from the informal evidence session can be found on the UK Parliament YouTube channel here. A transcript will be made available as soon as possible.